Clare captain Gary Brennan isn’t looking beyond Waterford, but at the same time the Clondegad man is gearing up for a championship run with some confidence, writes Joe Ó Muricheartaigh.
IN RECENT weeks Gary Brennan the hurler, the potential county senior hurler has loomed on the horizon thanks to his exploits in the black and amber of Ballyea in their senior championship opener against Clonlara.
Even in defeat Brennan was a stand-out figure, wielding huge influence from his full-forward berth and bagging 1-3 in the process, so much so that all the talk in the aftermath was that he was dual star material at county level.
Who knows, it might happen yet – after all he wouldn’t be the first player catapulted into the later stages of an All-Ireland Championship as it moves through the summer towards September.
That’s pure conjecture and crystal ball gazing though – the reality, the here and now for Brennan this week, these past few weeks and for the foreseeable future is the big ball and leading Clare’s assault on the championship summer.
The captain. The best player. The driving force. The leader in every way.
It will be the beginning of Brennan’s eighth senior championship campaign for Clare. It’s been a barren enough eight years since 2007, with the only championship wins coming against Waterford in 2009 and Limerick in 2012, while along the way there’s been 11 defeats between Munster and the All-Ireland series.
Hard times for sure, but at the same time there was always light at the end of the tunnel. Always the case of where there was football, there was hope, something that was finally translated into something on the field when promotion was secured at the fourth time of asking.
“Promotion was a target at the start of the year and we achieved it but we’re not dwelling on it,” says Brennan. “As soon as the league goal was achieved we wanted to progress and try and move on improve ourselves as much as we can before championship.
“We want to try and step it up and achieve the next target. It’s something that we had worked for and worked towards for a while, but it was time for us to achieve that – we couldn’t keep going on the way we were. We’ve got that now and we now want to step it up to the next level to see how much better we can get,” he adds.
Improving each and every day that Clare go out has been the mantra of management all season, with Brennan singing off the same hymn sheet as he gears up for his 14th championship game for the county.
“It’s been six weeks (since the league final), but that time doesn’t be long passing. But we’ve done a lot of good work in that time,” he says. “Training has gone very well and we’d be very happy with the preparation.
“There were aspects of our performance throughout the league that we would be very happy with, but as always there are things that we would like to improve on so we are far from the finished article.
“There are plenty of things that we feel we would like to improve on for this game against Waterford and hopefully further down the line again. There are lots of different things that we’re working on as I wouldn’t say there’s any one massive area in particular. We’re kept informed of where our progress is in different areas and it’s up to us to try and improve on them then.
“We had a training weekend which was very positive and we got a few sessions in. It’s good to get away and there were no distractions and we were able to focus fully on ourselves over the weekend and what we wanted to bring out of it,” he adds.
Brennan’s championship debut came against Waterford in Fraher Field in 2007, when Páidí Ó Sé’s Clare side slumped to a 1-6 to 0-7 defeat. Clare gained revenge in Cusack Park in 2009, but defeat was Clare’s lot once more on their travels to Dungarvan in 2010.
It’s this record that will have Clare on their guard, not least Brennan who has been an ever-present in the seven league and championship meetings between the sides since 2007.
“I expect what we always get from Waterford – a very tough game,” he says. “They’re good footballers and they’re a strong team and we’ve found it tough to play against them. We know that we’re going to have to be at our best or very close to our best to try and win this game.
“We’re focusing very much on our own performance, not so much Waterford. It’s up to us to get ourselves right and we know that we certainly won’t get anything easy from Waterford. We have a strong squad this year and there is plenty of competition for places. We have options and that’s what you need to be competitive.
“With the preparations we have and if we continue to work hard and if we have the workrate we’ll give ourselves every chance of winning the game.”